Pulitzer Drama: Lynn Nottage’s Ruined Takes The Drama Prize

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The Pulitzers (pronounced PULL-IT-ZER, not PYOOL-IT-ZER. Get it right or pay the price: a glare from Columbia intellectualati) are a strange, strange beast when it comes to drama. Sometimes, the shoo-in wins; other times, it’s a pompously off-kilter choice. I’m definitely jinxing whatever chance I want to have of one day winning one by simply writing about it, but that’s a different story. Literally. Anyway.

This year’s award was just announced, along with the finalists who might’ve gotten it (yet another strange Pulitzer ritual: “finalists” are secret until the day of the award, when they tell the also-rans, “sorry, we liked you, but not enough”).

Winner: Lynn Nottage’s Ruined (currently playing at Manhattan Theatre Company)

Finalists: Lin Manuel-Miranda’s In the Heights (on Broadway, going on tour, film on the way), Gina Gionfredo’s Becky Shaw

Now, the award context, from the horse’s mouth:

“For a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).”

Going by the rubric, Ruined is primarily about the Congo — In the Heights (which originated in workshops at New York’s own Ars Nova, among other places) and Becky Shaw (which first saw the light of day at the Humana Festival/Actors Theatre of Louisville) are both far more “American” pieces of work, at least geographically. That nonsense aside, how Becky Shaw beat out Neil LaBute’s brilliant, scathing, heartbreaking coming-of-age story Reasons to Be Pretty for a finalist spot is kinda beyond me, but kinda not: Becky Shaw feels like an academic’s study of heartbreak, Reasons feels like a sentimental smartass’s.

Pulitzer drama prizes are often either the ultimate populist pick (August: Osage County, Doubt, Proof, Topdop/Underdog, Rabbit Hole), or awarded to the most aridly academic play up for the honor (Anna in the Tropics beating out Richard Greenberg’s baseball epic Take Me Out is stupid; being so pompous as to refuse to award the prize in 2006 when The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, Red Light Winter, and Miss Witherspoon were nominated is ridiculous).

LaBute’s contributions to theatre need to be recognized by the Pulitzer committee at some point, even if they do think he’s a misogynist (He’s not! Go see Reasons! Or read our interview.). Also, fact: Gina Gionfredo doesn’t like dogs. So there’s that. Anyway, serious congratulations are in order to Ms. Nottage, whose (fairly awesome) play is up at MTC through May, along with Mr. Manuel-Miranda and Ms. Gionfredo. Go see it.

Related trivia: Chicago’s Goodman Theater is on a roll. Ruined is a Goodman transfer, and so is the Broadway production of Desire Under the Elms, in previews right now. Next time you’re in Chicago — be it for Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, Obama Election-night victories, etc — don’t pass the Goodman for Steppenwolf (or, shit, visit both!). See whatever they have up; there’s a solid chance you could see it for less and before everyone else in New York does when the transfer happens.